The Early Church - Chapter 8 - The Church in Thy Home

Chapter 8 - "The Church In Thy Home"

These arresting words are found in Philemon 2 where Paul includes in his greeting "the church in thy house." The phrase is striking because the concept is so foreign today. As soon as a "church" is mentioned the image of a stately building with a spire pointing heavenward flashes upon the screen of one's mind. This image naturally will not fit into the average living room!

Of course the enlightened know that Paul is greeting a company of believers who met regularly in Philemon's home for teaching, prayer, and worship. A material building is not a church; it can only house the assembly of believers who gather. Nevertheless, to many it is old fashioned ever to think of an assembly meeting in a home. If a work is begun it must start with a special "church" building. To meet in a home or small rented quarters is often regarded as reactionary.

First of all, one needs to notice that there is Scriptural precedent for meeting in a home (Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 16:19; Philemon 2). If a group should begin this way it could not be called unscriptural. Not that one would say an assembly must necessarily start or stay in a home to be scriptural. Evidently a rental hall was used by the group in Ephesus for some time (Acts 19:9). An assembly may outgrow quarters in a home.
There are certain practical reasons for starting an assembly in a home. There is no great expense involved. Two or three families can begin meeting as a New Testament church that might be financially unable to rent or to buy a building. Should they be denied the privilge of meeting in Scriptural simplicity until such time as they can afford a building?

When a group begins in a home or rented quarters, a spiritual concept of the assembly is likely to develop from the tint. There is no "church" building to confuse the issue.  From the beginning Christians realized an assembly is a body of believers. In their feebleness and smallness of numbers they learn blessed lessons of faith and dependence on the Lord. Often in adverse circumstances God makes Himself known with thrilling sweetness to the "little flock."

The informal atmosphere of the home encourages participation and growth on the part of young believers. Few young Christians would dare to stand and preach in a church building. However, in the intimate surroundings of the home with a few families present, men who are young in the Lord begin to express themselves in prayer and in the Word (I Cor. 14). Here spiritual gift begins to blossom and the future elders of the assembly begin to stretch themselves. One day they will lead the flock. May one add that an assembly regardless of size would do well to nurture that loving family spirit of the home in its gatherings. The Holy Spirit longs for liberty to express Himself. Too often He is imprisoned in a strait jacket of programs and organization.

Finally, one might add that there are vast areas over the face of the earth where believers are persecuted with vicious hatred. Here they meet furtively from house to house, changing the place and time lest they be discovered. Muted singing, prayer, the precious Word of God, a table with a cup and a loaf surrounded by several earnest families — is not this a church in the truest sense?

The time may come in other lands when those who love the Lord dare meet no longer in public church buildings. Driven underground, believers may know afresh the reality of God's Presence with the little flock, "the church in thy house." Let us not despise small beginnings.